Keene State turning to purified waste vegetable oil for heat
Posted: Sunday, October 9, 2016 8:00 am
By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff
A fter decades of relying on No. 6 fuel oil to heat most of the campus’
buildings, Keene State College officials are experimenting with an
environmentally-friendly alternative they hope will eventually replace
the polluting fossil fuel.
This year, the college entered into a contract to receive shipments of
purified waste vegetable oil biofuel from a Boston-based firm that
manufactures the product, Campus Sustainability Director Cary H. Gaunt said.
The college received its first delivery of the biofuel, which burns at a
similar temperature as No. 6 fuel oil but is much cleaner, this summer,
An upfront cost was incurred to make a few minor conversions to heating
equipment, but it was nominal, she said. The cost of the biofuel is
competitive with the No. 6 fuel oil, partly because of state and federal
renewable energy credits available for using the product, Gaunt said.
“It’s extremely exciting because when you read articles in the press,
people say we can’t get off fossil fuels because it’s so ingrained in
our society,” Gaunt said. “Keene State and any institutions like it that
have historically burned oil now have this viable transition fuel.”
The company making the biofuel gathers the waste vegetable oil from
across New England. Eventually the plan is for the company to take Keene
State’s used cooking oil, too, she said.
Keene State has often historically been ahead of the curb when it comes
to environmental initiatives. While most of its buildings are on a steam
heating system, some of the older residence halls are on electric heat,
Gaunt said. The campus’ newest building, a residence hall called a
living and learning community, is heated and cooled with geothermal
technology with electric heat pumps.
In 2007, the college was one of the first to sign the American College
and University President’s Climate Commitment. The intention of the
document, which is now called the Carbon Commitment, is to create a
network of college and universities seeking to lessen their greenhouse
gas emissions, and accelerate research and educational efforts aimed at
combating global climate change and preparing to be resilient to it.
Once Keene State’s heating system was ready to burn the biofuel, the
college was able to meet its heat and hot water demands for the
remainder of July and all of August, Gaunt said.
In the meantime, college officials have learned through their own
research that Keene State is the first college or university in the
country to heat using the purified waste vegetable oil biofuel, she said.
The purified waste vegetable oil is carbon neutral, and once cold
weather sets in it will account for 36 percent of the heat used by
buildings on the campus heating system, she said.
“We want to do a full test year, and if everything continues to go well
with the product we’ll bump up how much of it we use,” she said.
Increasing the percentage of the biofuel used in the college’s heating
system would probably be done over a period of two to three years, she
said. Her personal goal would be to eventually have it account for 100
percent of the institution’s heat load, Gaunt said.
However, college officials are interested in creating a resilient
heating system that can still function if something happens to the
biofuel supply chain, she said. That will likely mean the heating plant
continuing to have a boiler capable of burning fuel oil, she said.
“We’re really committed — the campus as a whole — to achieving our
sustainability goals. But we were never going to get there if we
continued to burn No. 6 fuel oil,” she said. “It’s probably one of the
most polluting fossil fuels.”
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